NLCS Game 3: Dodgers one win away from first World Series in 29 years

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

CHICAGO – The Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night drew to within one win of deposing the defending champion Chicago Cubs and returning to the World Series after 29 years.

Yu Darvish, the mid-season trade acquisition, pitched into the seventh inning at Wrigley Field, Chris Taylor and Andre Ethier homered, and the Dodgers beat the Cubs, 6-1, to take a three-games-to-none lead in the best-of seven National League Championship Series. Game 4 is Wednesday night.

In baseball history, 35 teams have won the first three games of a best-of-seven series. Thirty-four won those series. The 35th team, the 2004 New York Yankees, lost in seven to the Boston Red Sox, beginning with a crucial Game 4 stolen base by Dave Roberts. Roberts now manages the Dodgers.

On a warm and breezy night at Wrigleyville, Darvish allowed a first-inning home run to Kyle Schwarber. Two-and-a-half hours later, he returned the ball to Roberts having allowed just that run. In two postseason starts for the Dodgers, Darvish is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA.

Earlier Tuesday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn’t long consider the contrast between three-oh and two-one, those being the series’ two possible scenarios by late Tuesday night, the Cubs on the short side either way.

He called the outcomes “dramatically different,” and that is where the challenge lies, whether they were to inch into the series or begin the process of slinking away from it.

For Game 3, Maddon sought left-handed hitters against Darvish, and so started Ben Zobrist at second base and Schwarber in left field. Roberts sought the same matchup advantage against Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks, starting left-handed hitters Ethier in left field, Chase Utley at second base and Joc Pederson in center. Ethier hadn’t started a game since Sept. 29 and had one postseason plate appearance. Pederson last started a game Sept. 24. He, too, arrived at Game 3, the Dodgers’ sixth playoff game, with a single plate appearance. Roberts also had Yasiel Puig batting cleanup, unusual in that Puig started only 11 games in four hole in the regular season and batted .213 in them. Conversely, Puig hit right-handers far better than he did lefties.

Los Angeles Dodgers’ Chris Taylor (3) celebrates his home run with Cody Bellinger (35) during the third inning of Game 3 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Chicago. (AP)

The Cubs sought offense, as you would imagine they would, but their postseason slump had reached a critical stage. Over seven games, they’d batted .162 and scored 20 runs, nine of those runs in Game 5 of the division series. In Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS, both at Dodger Stadium, they’d scored three runs and batted .117. The three runs came on two swings – a two-run homer by Albert Almora Jr. in the first game and a solo home run by Addison Russell in the second. Kris Bryant had one hit. Anthony Rizzo had none. It was a problem.

Schwarber’s first-inning home run, therefore, was greeted with great enthusiasm. In fact, hunting early fastballs, the Cubs hit four balls firmly in the first inning. Schwarber’s landed about eight rows deep in the bleachers beyond left-center field. The Cubs led, 1-0.

A half-inning later, Ethier lined a home run to right field against Hendricks. The hit was his first since Sept. 21, over only 10 at-bats. In the third inning, Taylor, who started at shortstop in place of Charlie Culberson, who had played the first two games in place of injured Corey Seager, homered to center field on a 3-and-1 fastball Hendricks intended to be inside, but was over the plate. The Dodgers led, 2-1, in a game that was playing a 7-mph, southwesterly breeze that carried to the bleachers. At 444 feet, according to Statcast, Taylor’s home run was the longest of the postseason, and Hendricks had allowed four home runs over his six most recent postseason innings. Daniel Murphy and Michael Taylor homered against him in Game 5 of the division series.

The Dodgers scored again in the fifth, which Pederson led off with a double into the right-field corner. After Darvish failed to move him to third with a bunt, Taylor scorched a first-pitch fastball past third base for a triple.

They added a run in the sixth inning in an unusual way. Puig reached on an error by third baseman Bryant and Ethier flipped a broken-bat single into center field. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. replaced Hendricks, to some second-guess rumbling from the bleachers, and Utley’s infield chopper moved the runners to second and third. Austin Barnes walked to load the bases and Pederson popped to shallow right field. With two out, Darvish would hit for himself, though Curtis Granderson had spent the entire Pederson at-bat in the on-deck circle. Darvish, who has four hits and one walk in his whole life (34 career plate appearances), against Edwards would seem a mismatch, as would Darvish against anyone.

So Edwards walked him on four pitches. It was the first postseason bases-loaded walk to a pitcher in 40 years. Darvish crowded the plate and waved the bat and after two high fastballs Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio came out to find out what was the matter. Edwards nodded a lot and when Bosio left Edwards threw another high fastball and then another fastball that missed the strike zone. Puig came home through the boos.

The Dodgers scored two more in the eighth inning against the teetering Cubs bullpen, the first when a passed ball ended up in the Dodgers’ dugout, the other on a sacrifice fly.